CAMERON’S campaign message about the Big Society didn’t exactly electrify the masses. But I wonder if that’s because it’s already happening, and he just had the good sense to hold up a mirror to what the people of the UK are already doing.
Last Friday afternoon, I attended an event hosted by the Fredericks Foundation – the UK’s largest micro-finance organisation – in Berkshire at the home of Paul Barry-Walsh, one of the UK’s leading technology entrepreneurs, a recipient of the Queen’s Award, and a CNBC European Business Award winner (in the philanthropist of the year category).
The purpose of the Fredericks Foundation, a registered charity, is to assist disadvantaged individuals to become self-employed by offering them affordable loans, ongoing business support and mentoring, and, where appropriate, small grants to test a business idea.
I learned a lot, consider just this:
• 49 per cent of all workers in Birmingham are in the public sector. How can that be sustainable?
• Since 1950, the billions of aid to sub-saharan Africa have tragically caused this region to regress by 0.6 per cent per year, compared to 3 per cent growth in the west, and 9 per cent a year in China, confirming that real growth can only be incubated by domestic institutional reforms.
• 2.6m people in the UK are on incapacity benefit, which costs £16bn per year.
• The Fredericks Foundation saves the UK at least £5m over a 3 year period for every 100 people coming off of benefits, not to mention the eventual taxable income coming out of their micro-businesses when they become larger and profitable
• Fredericks has made 741 loans since 2001 worth £2.5m which is an average of £3,373 per startup. Put another way, Fredericks capital worth £2.5m has saved the UK Treasury something like £35m.
In late 2008, Fredericks began to diversify geographically, taking over an existing yet struggling community loan fund in Gloucestershire. It took on the back office function, administered the loans, and freed the staff to work on the ground with clients. And during 2009, Fredericks expanded into the Devon, Dorset and Somerset region by taking on a management role at Wessex Reinvestment Society.
Fredericks works closely with local business mentors and energises local communities in many ways to get them to take care of their own. This is the Big Society of which Cameron spoke of, already in action; he didn’t create it, but it is happening.
Paul Barry-Walsh proves that successful people who try to improve the ecosystem are doing wonders for the next generation.
Julie Meyer is founder and chief executive of Ariadne Capital, runs Entrepreneur Country and appears on the BBC’s Online Dragons’ Den.